Companies hoping to cash in on the cellulosic ethanol market are calling on ag equipment manufacturers for new, existing or altered equipment that can harvest cellulosic feedstocks, say spokesmen for John Deere, Vermeer, Claas and Krone.

Unfortunately for U.S. custom forage harvesters, most of the emphasis is now on corn cobs.

A John Deere attachment to existing combines, enabling them to harvest a corn and cob mix, was demonstrated at a field day hosted by Poet, an Emmetsburg, IA, biorefinery, says Barry Nelson, John Deere public relations manager.

“Within a year or two we will have attaching parts that customers can order to convert their machines,” he says.

Exhibited at that same event: a wagon-style cob harvester that pulls behind a combine, says Jay Van Roekel, Vermeer product manager. The combine harvests clean grain, and residue drops onto a belt to the harvester wagon. Within the wagon, cobs are separated from stalks, husks, leaves and chaff. Cobs stay in the wagon, and the rest of the material is thrown back on the field.

Although the harvester is generating interest, it's just in a prototype stage, says Van Roekel.

The 605 Super M Cornstalk Special round baler, specially designed to handle coarse cornstalks without plugging, is a recent Vermeer introduction that can be used for biomass, he adds. (See February's Hay & Forage Grower, page 12, or find “First Of Its Kind” at hayandforage.com.)

Krone Big Pack 1290 High-Density-Press large square balers have been tested by Abengoa, a worldwide biotechnology firm specializing in cellulosic ethanol, says Hartwig Janssen, Krone North America marketing manager.

“We are being contacted a lot by companies on the baler side, and there continues to be plenty of enthusiasm in the ethanol industry. But it has slowed slightly, as you can figure, because of the comparable low cost of crude oil,” he says.

Claas has been working with researchers to develop machinery to harvest biomass as well, says Bob Armstrong, its North American product marketing manager. But he says the company's Direct Disc DD520 or DD610 heads for Jaguar forage harvesters, currently on the market, can mow and chop switchgrass, a leading biomass crop, in a single operation.

“Equipment-wise, I think the best thing we can do as a company is try to stay on top of the latest needs of not only our customer, but also the user side, like Poet,” says Vermeer's Van Roekel.

“Biomass collection is creating new profit opportunities for the farms but also has specific end-use requirements that we must consider while developing these new harvesting machines. So we are defining needs from both farm and end user, then trying to develop the right equipment for the job,” he concludes.